Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD)

Degree Level





George Sabo, III

Committee Member

Adriana Potra

Second Committee Member

Kenneth L. Kvamme

Third Committee Member

Jerome C. Rose

Fourth Committee Member

Jami J. Lockhart


ancestor veneration, Caddo, contamination, Pb isotopes, Sr isotopes, warfare


Skull burials are found all over the world. The cause of such ancient Native Americans deposits often lead to disagreement among scholars torn between warfare and ancestor veneration. One skull-and-mandible deposit, representing at least 352 people (A.D. 1253-1399), was uncovered at the Crenshaw site, a multiple-mound Caddo ceremonial center in southwest Arkansas. Most previous research suggested they were victims of interregional warfare from the Southern Plains or Mississippi Valley. One previous study hypothesized that this was a Caddo burial practice which expanded during the Middle Caddo period (A.D. 1200-1500) due to the adoption of maize as a staple and a dispersed settlement pattern. A dispersed population might need such a practice to be buried at their preferred ritual center due to the inability to move large numbers of bodies. This study uses multiple methods to evaluate the purpose of this burial practice including (1) lead, strontium, carbon, and nitrogen isotope analyses for geographic origins and diet, (2) geophysical analysis of settlement patterns, and (3) analyses of biological traits. The biologically available lead method, using lead isotopes from ancient animal teeth, was developed to provide a method to assess the geographic origin of the human remains. The first large-scale lead and strontium isoscape using such samples was constructed to evaluate geographic origins. Sites targeted for sampling included those with evidence of violence from the same time period (from Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas). The stable isotope signatures show that the human remains are local to sites surrounding Crenshaw and indicate or strongly suggest they are non-local to all other tested regions. The dietary evidence indicates a maize and fish diet rather than a bison diet, consistent with southwest Arkansas and not the Southern Plains. Some aspects of the diet also suggest matrilocal intermarriage and food sharing with community and ritual leaders, consistent with Caddo cultural practices. The geophysical analysis of settlement patterning concludes that Crenshaw was among the most heavily occupied sites in the Caddo Area, if not the most, at one time. Analyses of possible ceremonial and domestic structures show that Crenshaw had a nucleated settlement pattern at least as late as the Early Caddo period (A.D. 1000-1200). It is hypothesized to have become more dispersed ca. A.D. 1200. Biological traits were compared to a nearby population in the Little River region. There were no significant differences between compared populations (locals, the skulls, or the mandibles) except the mandibles had additional tooth chipping. An analysis of mortuary patterning in the Little River region shows that there is a lack of Middle Caddo bodies at secondary mound sites nearest to Crenshaw despite the presence of mortuary structures from that time. The Caddo skull and mandible burial practice is therefore a regional burial practice associated with ancestor veneration. The ritual burial practice reflects that Crenshaw was expanding its ritual influence on previously existing surrounding sites and its ritual landscape through the dispersal of the populace around Crenshaw while the population began to adopt maize as a staple.